NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Cork Site name: AGHMANISTER AND SPITAL

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 09E0281

Author: Barra Ó Donnabháin

Site type: Medieval

ITM: E 546016m, N 541766m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 51.625776, -8.779700

Extant ruins of what appear to be a church and cloister at Aghmanister and Spital townland near Timoleague are thought to represent the original location of the Cistercian monastery of Fons Vivus, founded by the local McCarthy kings in the late 12th century. The annals indicate that by the late 13th century the monastery had moved to nearby Abbeymahon. The subsequent fate of the site of the original foundation is not documented, but the townland name has suggested to some that the site may have been used as a hospital. The third and final season of a University College Cork research excavation was carried out over three weeks in May 2011 (see Excavations 2009, no. 109, and Excavations 2010, no. 105, for reports on the previous seasons).

Four cuttings were opened in 2011. Trench 1 was extended at the western end of the structure identified as the church. The absence of evidence for roofing or indications of the intentional dismantling of this structure may indicate that it was never finished. A number of phases of activity were identified in Trench 1. The earliest involved levelling this part of the site by laying down a surface of redeposited boulder clay. This was cut through to construct the walls of the structure. On the interior of the structure, the redeposited clay had been cut by a number of pits, the function of which remains obscure. These may be related to the construction phase of the building and produced Saintonge ware, an armour-piercing iron arrowhead or bodkin, a lead weight and pieces of copper. The next phase of activity within the building consisted of an intense period of metal-working that involved the building of a rectangular structure, marked by slot-trenches, post- and stake-holes, within the pre-existing walls. These slot-trenches more or less contained all of the evidence for metal-working and seem to represent a smithy building. Finds associated with this phase included over 200kg of iron slag, 13th-century Cork-type ware and portions of ceramic tuyères, as well as other ceramic fragments that could be portions of crucibles or brazing shrouds. The main activity in the smithy seems to have been around two hearths. There was evidence that the forge building, or at least the west side of it, may have burned down. This forge building seems to have taken advantage of the existing walls for shelter but clearly these walls did not provide entirely adequate enclosure of the forge, as the wooden rectangular building was necessary.

An extensive programme of geophysical prospection was undertaken during the three seasons of excavation. This indicated the presence of a ringfort-sized circular enclosure immediately to the west of the upstanding remains. Excavation of two trenches in this area confirmed the presence of a ditch c. 2m wide and 1.5m deep. A 2m-long arc of a slot-trench may represent the foundation of a circular building on the interior of this enclosure.

Department of Archaeology, University College